The Elder God’s Cavern, level 2, session 2

The group re-formed to finish the second level of the dungeon. We had Crohm (human fighter), Uatu (halfling warlock), Black Lotus (drow monk), and two newcomers: Dre (dragonborn barbarian) and Goris (half-orc barbarian). I run the group through Meetup, so try to accommodate people who join halfway through. Once again, we met at the excellent Killer Rabbit Comics and Games in South Burlington, VT.

The group took a long rest to recover from the fight. After waking, they heard a commotion: what sounded like shouting, and someone running towards them.

They decided to prepare by hiding the tiger corpse to avoid raising suspicion. Unfortunately, it proved heavier than they expected, so they were still pulling on it as a dragonborn and half-orc ran into the cavern, followed soon after by three hobgoblins [everyone failed their strength checks].

The group rushed to attack, while the Dre and Goris turned on their pursuers. Goris ripped out one of the tiger’s fangs to use as a dagger, and Dre attacked with his hands. The group quickly took care of the hobgoblins, and introduced themselves to the new-comers. They had been travelling through the highlands to the west when they were set upon by a group of hobgoblins and captured. Their captors were escorting them back to their lair when they made a break for it.

After introductions, the group explained what they were trying to accomplish. The newcomers knew the way to the hobgoblin lair, but they decided to look for the alternative power source for the submersible first. Heading northwest, they came into a slimy cavern that ended in the rushing river. While exploring the riverbank, a green slime dropped on Uatu, injuring him. He scraped it off with a rock, and they moved on.

The next cavern was overgrown with waist-high (for a human) mushrooms. The group began cutting their way through when suddenly a horrid shrieking sound erupted beside them. Uatu saw it was coming from a strange fungus, and realized it was a shrieker [rolled a Nature check]. He tugged on it, but it wouldn’t budge. Goris tried to help by tugging on Uatu, but it still wouldn’t come out. Then Dre shouted, “I’ll just smash it!” ran over, and missed, kicking Uatu in the head [two failed strength checks, and a critical failure by Dre].

The group decided to move on. They came out in a familiar passageway. Remembering that it led to the trapped passageway Black Lotus stumbled over (last session), they headed the other direction.

They came out into a ruined temple. A statue of a blinded and maimed god stood on a pedestal, with a sealed chest behind him. On the pedestal was written, “follow in my footsteps to gain my aid.” On the wall were carving of horrific beasts—reminiscent of the tentacled creatures in the carvings above them—attacking human cities but being held back by figures emitting light. In one corner, a figure holding back the beasts had a different beast behind him, aiding him.

The group tried to figure out how to open the chest, but it wouldn’t budge. Black Lotus walked in the direction the statue was looking, but nothing happened. Uatu identified the statue as Tyr [religion check], and Dre closed his eyes and walked blindly. At this, the statue clicked open. Inside they found a decanter of endless water, a rope of climbing, and two sending stones.

They backtracked their way south, past the tiger lair, to a large, oddly shaped room with numerous, dark, alcoves. The floor was covered with a fungus Goris recognized as growing from corpses, and the room had a horrid, rotting smell. As they carefully explored the alcoves, a ghoul appeared out of the darkness, and bit Uatu in the shoulder.

The others rushed in as two other ghouls and a zombie came out of the darkness. The ghouls bit Black Lotus and Dre as well, but they fought off the stiffness in their limbs [succeeded in saving throw against paralysis]. They defeated the undead rather easily [I was a little disappointed, was hoping for a least one paralysis]. In the alcoves they found assorted treasure, and a glowing stone [“does it look like a power source?” one of my players facetiously asked]

They headed back to the passageway to the hobgoblin lair. Remembering the traps last time, Black Lotus walked carefully, but still got hit with an arrow. He then decided to poke the floor ahead of him with a stick, and discovered the rest of the traps. Unfortunately, that included a set of bells that rang alarmingly loud.

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The Elder God’s Cavern, level 2, part 1

As I’ve discussed, I am working on a multi-level dungeon that will take characters from Level 1 to 5. Each level is an open-ended dungeon crawl with the objective of getting to the next level, but there is a storyline connecting them as the group progresses (I don’t want to give away any details in case my players read this).

Last time, a group of new adventurers were hired by a mysterious stranger to figure out why a river had gone dry. The town the river supplied was suffering, and he offered a rich reward for their help. The group entered the ruins of an ancient wizard’s tower and discovered a group of bandits had blocked the river. Along the way they found signs the wizard had worshiped strange, tentacled beings that seemed to threaten the world. After releasing the river, a ghostly voice emerged from the depths, and the group fled in terror…

The group from the first session of the Elder God’s Cavern re-gathered to being the next part of our journey. We had Uatu (Halfling warlock), Black Lotus (drow monk), and Crohm (human warrior). Nailo—the elf ranger—wasn’t able to make it.

After returning to the village in triumph, the group were cheered as heroes for restoring the river. They then proceeded to celebrate for the next week, spending much of the loot they found in the cavern on fine food, drink and clothing. Unfortunately, Nailo spent a bit too much, and skipped town in the middle of the night to avoid a bar tab (which Black Lotus had to pick up) [this is how I explained his absence]

As the group finished up another night in the pub, they heard a horrifying scream from outside. Rushing out, they saw a ghost grabbing a man, and flying up into the air with him. The ghost wailed, and the group recognized it as the same voice they heard as they freed the river.

Uatu panicked, and jumped headfirst into a rain barrel, but the rest of the group maintained their composure [he failed a Wisdom check]. As the ghost disappeared with the man, the cowering villagers turned on the group. They shouted at them for bringing this evil upon them, and started threatening their lives.

The group gathered back to back (after Crohm fished out Uatu), and thankfully Randulf appeared—in a burst of smoke and brimstone—to calm the crowd. He reminded the villagers that the group had saved them by freeing the river. If that indeed caused the ghost to appear, he was sure the group would fix it. He nudged Black Lotus as he said this. Taking his hint, the group offered to leave immediately and investigate.

They hiked through the night towards the hill with the river flowing through it. As they got closer, they realized an eerie silence hung over it, the normal nighttime sounds of insects and animals were missing. They slept fitfully by the side of the mountain, and entered the cavern the next morning.

As they travelled through the level they’d recently cleared out, they noted it was just as still and quiet as the outside. They stumbled upon the body of an elderly wizard; there were scorch marks around her, as if she’s used all her spells, but she seemed to have died of fright. Shaken, the group moved on, and found the stairs they had uncovered their last time here.

Climbing down the stairs they came into a damp cavern full of ankle-deep water (waist-deep for Uatu). The group moved out towards a closed door at the other end, when suddenly two constrictor snakes attacked. One managed to wrap itself around Uatu and drag him into the river, but the rest of the group freed him and killed the snakes before moving on.

They came on a forked passageway. One path looked relatively well-maintained, with a smooth floor and corners cut into the rock. The other looked like a natural cavern, worn and twisting. They chose the artificial path, which took them along a rushing river. Uatu noticed that the river flowed uphill, eventually bursting into the level above them in a sort of reverse waterfall. The group made a note to investigate that further.

As the group crept along in darkness, Black Lotus snuck ahead. He came upon a goblin peeing into the river. He snuck up behind the goblin, grabbed it, and held his knife to his throat. He then called for the group to catch up as he interrogated it.

The goblin—who introduced himself as Hoggle—tried to convince the group he was friendly, and just lived in these caverns. After Crohm smoothed things over, Hoggle told them a bit about the level. A group of “frog people” lived to the south, and they fought with hobgoblins across the river. The “frog people” had taken the controls for the bridge, leaving it submerged in the water, to defend against hobgoblin attacks. When asked about a ghost, he said something horrible flew through the cavern about a week ago, but he hid. He knew of a way down to lower levels, a weird machine floating on the opposite river bank; he didn’t know much about it, besides the fact that the hobgoblins took something from it.

After the rest of the group treated him nicely, Hoggle agreed to take them to his lair, which has a secret door into the “frog people” camp. He tried to keep his distance from Black Lotus, though.

The group passed a fountain flowing from a wall, but decided not to investigate it. They then arrived at Hoggle’s lair, a small cavern set high up above the river bank. He showed them the secret door, but asked that they promise not to tell the “frog people” about him. [this was meant to be an ally for the group, so I found it funny they nearly killed him.]

I’ll post the rest of our first session on level 2 next week.

Out of the Abyss conclusions, wrap-up

Well, my final session for the first half of Out of the Abyss never happened. A few of the members cancelled at the last minute (I may write a post on how to deal with this increasingly common part of modern gaming) and the rest of us decided to play the excellent Lords of Waterdeep instead.

As I mentioned on Twitter, I’m taking a break from DM-ing and we’ll be starting a new campaign, so we thought we’d just move on. I’ll still be doing walkthroughs of our sessions, although from the perspective of a player.

In this post, I thought I’d write up how I was planning to conclude part 1 of Out of the Abyss, in case anyone is following along for ideas to use in their own campaigns. I’ll also provide a few of my thoughts on the campaign.

Concluding Part 1

When we left off, the group was getting ready to wage the Battle for Blingdenstone. They needed to accomplish a few tasks for the deep gnomes before the battle could begin. And then, assuming they defeated the villainous Pudding King, the deep gnomes would lead the party to an exit from the Underdark.

The campaign book provides several tasks for the group. Some occur around Blingdenstone–putting deep gnome ghosts to rest, cleansing a holy site, defeating Ogremoch’s Bane (which corrupts earth elementals), and finding Entemoch’s Boon, which aids in their summoning. There were others that took the group to other areas of the Underdark–fetching special fungus materials from Neverlight Grove, and procuring a shipment of high-quality weapons from Gracklestugh. For each task the group undertook, they would gain some benefits in the battle.

I decided against running the outside-Blingdentsone tasks. These would be useful if the group went to Blingdenstone first, and the DM wanted them to fully explore the Underdark. But it would add too much time (and be a little annoying for them) to backtrack now. I was going to run through each of the three tasks in Blingdenstone, though, as they were varied adventures that provided more depth to the city.

After that would be the battle. This involves the group dealing with a few random encounters before battling two powerful oozes and then the Pudding King himself. As I’ve done before, I pre-rolled the random encounters so they would be all set–in this case the group would fight two waves of black puddings and ochre jellies. I’d then run the final battles.

The escape details are left up to the DM. I tried to come up with a simple, but memorable final battle. The deep gnomes would escort the group to an exit they knew of. This is a cave lit with wondrous light, which is a mixture of nightlight fungi growing in it and…daylight! The cave has a shaft leading up to another cave, which opens onto the surface.

The upper cave was an ancient elven temple, which they carved out and structured to Corellan Larethian. They carved steps into the shaft, and set up mirrors so the two sets of lights could intermix. If this sounds a little familiar, I took the idea of an abandoned elf temple as an Underdark exit from Baldur’s Gate 2 (see my thoughts on these games here).

But the drow who had initially captured the party would be awaiting them, as they’d gained intelligence on the party’s movements while they were in Blingdenstone. The drow would be hiding, try and surprise the party, and a chase would ensue.

I drew out a map and would use miniatures to track the progress of the chase. The varied terrain and option to ascend into daylight might have led to some interesting tactics.

And that would be it; they would be free from the Underdark, hoping they’d never have to return… (which is what would have happened if we continued the campaign)

Thoughts on Out of the Abyss

Overall, I thought this was a very well-done adventure. It’s my first published multi-adventure campaign for D&D, and I thought they did a good job. The encounters were varied and interesting, and the setting made for some memorable adventures.

DMs definitely need to read through the whole thing a few times, though. The adventure is open-ended, so you’ll need to have all chapters prepared simultaneously. Also, the flow of the adventure is not always clear. Without planning out various options, you may stumble while directing the players; this was especially the case in Gracklestugh.

My big complaint would be the cinematic nature of some encounters. As I’ve noted, at times the players just sit back and watch as things occur. Nothing they do really affects the outcome. This is particularly the case in the Kuo-Toa city on Darklake. Some parties may enjoy this, as they can interact with NPCs and try various options as things progress. My party tended to be on the quiet side, though, so they kind of waited until they had to act. So I’d be prepared for these sequences if you have a similar type of party.

But all in all, it was great. Maybe at some point I’ll reconvene the party and return to the Underdark…

Crusader Kings 2 walkthrough: Restoring Charlemagne’s Empire, part 3

I have been interspersing my RPG discussions with a walkthrough of the excellent Crusader Kings 2, in which players choose a dynasty and see it through from 1066 to 1453. In this game, I was playing as the last Karlings–Charlemagne’s descendants–confined to one county in France. Over time, they have schemed and conquered in an attempt to return the Karling family to greatness.

Last time, Clotaire II abandoned his family’s long feud with the foreign French monarchy, and died peacefully, mourned by all.

Clotaire II was succeeded by his eldest son, Lothaire. Where his father was noble and beloved, Lothaire was devious and feared. A great schemer, he immediately set to work bringing down the hated foreign king. Lothaire formed a faction to push for gavelkind succession; as the King had two young daughters this would lead to a division of the realm. Lothaire used his spies to gather dirt on other lords and blackmail them into joining his cause, then launched his rebellion. He easily won, and the King changed the succession rules.

Lothaire then moved into phase 2 of his plan. He had his spies abduct the King while he was travelling through the Karling lands. Lothaire then executed the King in prison. This led Lothaire to be widely despised, even by those who were not fond of the King. But it worked. The realm was divided between the two daughters. Brittany, Aquitaine and Aragon went to the eldest, and France to the younger.

[all of this was accomplished through the Intrigue actions available in the Way of Life expansion. I got a little lucky it all worked out, but when you have a high enough intrigue in a character, it can be a useful way to rule your realm through underhanded means.]

Lothaire then began plotting to overthrow his new Queen. He did not get very far in this latest scheme, however, as he was assassinated by bowmen while travelling on the roads. His list of enemies was too long for anyone to know for sure who was the killer.

Lothaire’s eldest son, Francois, inherited the Karling lands. He was a genius, and immediately set about developing and strengthening the administration of the realm. But he worked a bit too hard, and died of stress after only three years.

His brother, Lothaire II then became Duke. Lothaire II saw the repeated failures and frustration of his family, which he attributed to personal egos getting in the way of the cause. So he came up with a plan with his sister, Denise. She would marry their German cousin, now the Duke of Franconia and Flanders. Lothaire II would make her his heir. The two would then work to break their land free of what remained of France and join the Holy Roman Empire.

Their plans came together sooner than expected when the Queen of France faced a rebellion in the southern part of her realm. Lothaire II declared independence and easily won, although he was severely wounded in battle. He died less than a year after gaining independence, and his lands passed to Denise.

Denise was a brilliant and shrewd leader, who should have been the greatest of the Karlings but she repeatedly faced suspicion due to her gender.

Shortly after coming to power, she swore fealty to the Holy Roman Empire. After joining the Empire, her intelligence and charisma earned her the respect of the previously suspicious German Dukes. She also became very close to the Emperor, although he refused to appoint her as a counselor position because she was a woman. She also used her managerial skills to develop her families lands further, making them some of the wealthiest of the Empire.

But she faced repeated intrigue to remove her from power. Her various nephews continued to conspire against her. Some tried to kill her, others tried to organize factions to overthrow her. She managed to undermine all of these plots, throwing her nephews in jail, one by one.

Turmoil on the Empire’s eastern border soon called her attention. The Mongol horde out of the east had been gradually conquering Christian lands. They had seized Hungary a few years before, and now turned their sights on the Holy Roman Empire. In a massive invasion, they conquered Bohemia and the Empire’s lands in Italy. After a short respite, the Mongols attempted to conquer the Papacy itself. Christian leaders all over Europe rallied to defend the Pope, including  Denise. She raised her troops, and spent some of her own money on mercenaries to supplement them. The Christian armies turned back the Mongols, ending their advance into Europe.

Denise spent the rest of her life in peace, dying peacefully at 66.

The Elder God’s cavern level 1, part 2

Last week, our heroes entered into the mysterious caverns to figure out why a river had stopped flowing. The party was Black Lotus (a drow monk), Crohm (a human fighter), Nailo (an elf ranger) and Uatu (a halfling warlock) [Uatu replaced another player who couldn’t make it to this session.

The group woke up after a restless night (thanks to Crohm’s maniacal laughter), and decided on their next steps. They decided to backtrack a bit until they came to a passage leading further north. They also hoped to find some sign of their missing rogue.

The group entered a room that appeared to be an old study. Inside was Uatu, a friendly Halfling warlock (Callie’s replacement). The group chatted with him, and learned he had been hired by Lord Martyn—a noble from the town—to help explore the ruins. Martyn had gone mad, and claimed he was reclaiming his throne. He fled to the eastern part of the dungeon, and Uatu hoped to find him. The group agreed to help, and—after deciding there was nothing of value in the room—moved on [I put a chair in the middle of the room that hurt lawful players and healed chaotic players, but no one investigated it]

They crossed the long passageway they had encountered before, and entered a room with crumbling furniture but nice tapestries on the walls. One tapestry was flapping as if in a breeze. Nailo found an ancient keg of beer, tried a sip, and felt a surge of confidence [he passed a Constitution check; if he had failed, he’d be sickened]. This confidence led him to strut past the tapestry to see what happened, and he passed unscathed. Uatu cast mage hand to investigate it, and the magical hand disappeared as it touched the tapestry. The group decided to move on [it teleports players to the entrance]

They found another corridor, running north to south. Uatu could hear the sound of machinery below him, and as Crohm was investigating his foot slipped into a space along the wall. He realized there was another corridor running perpendicular to theirs beneath them. They decided to remember that, but press on.

To the south they came on a room with a floor one foot below the doors that was full of water. Various boxes and pieces of furniture floated on the surface. Nailo very acrobatically danced across each of the boxes, further increasing his confidence [he got a natural 20 on his acrobatics check, so I gave him advantage on his next roll]. Uatu followed, trying to sail a box across the room with his mage hand; unfortunately, it tipped and he fell into the disgusting water [poor dexterity check]. Crohm also fell in as he tried to jump across, but Black Lotus made it with little problem.

After leaving this room, they saw the corridor open up into another room to the north. Inside that room, they found Lord Martyn. As they entered, a giant wasp buzzed them and landed on Martyn’s shoulder. Martyn challenged the group, and demanded their loyalty to him and his “new lord.” Uatu attempted to reason with Martyn, and then secretly tried to charm him; this failed, and Martyn attacked. [I actually hadn’t thought of what to do with a charm here, so I decided Martyn would be immune]

The wasp struck Nailo, felling him with a lucky blow. At the same time, Martyn slashed at Uatu with his rapier, seriously harming him. Meanwhile, a sword lying next to Martyn leapt into the air and attack, harming Black Lotus. Black Lotus, however, knocked down Marten, and Uatu finished him off. The sword flew down the corridor.

The group took a short rest to recover some health, and moved on. To the north, they found a room that was full of machinery. A piston and gears ran east to west through the room, while another set of piston and gears ran into the ceiling; the two were connected by a giant spring. The ceiling was blocked, and the machinery would slowly turn the spring until the tension got to be too much. At this point it would suddenly reverse, tensing the spring from the other side. Uatu recognized this as the machinery noise he had heard, and the group guessed that this was part of the machinery the old wizard used to channel the river’s power [I was impressed, that was correct].

As they explored, Uatu found the piston ran through a narrow corridor that opened up into a broader cavern. Here a river flowed from the west, but its passage out of the cavern was blocked, creating a pool of water. At the south end of the room, he saw a hobgoblin (Bort) playing cards with a human in red robes and a kenku. Two mastiffs were chained to the west wall. Uatu also found another secret door connecting to the room from the area they found Lord Martyn.

Realizing this would be a tough fight, the group set up an ambush. Black Lotus and Uatu would attack from the north, while Crohm and Nailo would fire arrows at the monsters from the secret door. [I was impressed here with their ingenuity, as they very well may have lost this fight]

The attack began with a hail of arrows from Crohm and Nailo, which severely wounded the human and bounced off the hobgoblin’s armor. Uatu rushed in and cast Arms of Hadar, killing the human. The kenku ran to the flee the mastiffs as Black Lotus leapt into action.

One mastiff charged Black Lotus, but he jumped over it, closing on Bort. Bort had already engaged Uatu, felling him with a series of mighty longsword blows. Black Lotus ran up to avenge his comrade.

Meanwhile, a stray arrow from Crohm nipped the ear of a mastiff, and it charged  enraged. Dropping his bow, Crohm drew his greatsword and—using the beast’s own momentum—swung a mighty blow that chopped the mastiff in two [he asked for advantage, and had a good reason for it, so I gave it to him]

Nailo continued to fire arrows at the Kenku and the other mastiff and Bort and Black Lotus fought. Unfortunately, Bort proved too much for Black Lotus, and he too fell before the hobgoblin’s blade.

All seemed lost. The remaining mastiff had charged Nailo, who fled back into the passage to gain some cover. Black Lotus and Uatu lay, bleeding, in front of the hobgoblin, their lives draining away.

The only person who could save the group—and the village—was Crohm. He felt a flicker of uncertainty, as he had tended to do more harm than good with his sword so far. But he knew his friends were counting on him, and he charged.

Bort and Crohm engaged in single combat, their blades ringing off each other. Finally Crohm saw an opportunity after one of Bort’s wild swings and plunged his blade into Bort’s side. The hobgoblin fell, letting out a wild roar. The remaining mastiff heard this, and ran in circles, whining. The kenku shrieked and ran to the south, but Nailo pinned him to the ground with a well-placed arrow.

[I didn’t plan on this getting so dramatic at the end, but it really worked]

Nailo and Crohm revived their friends, and gathered up Bort’s treasure. They then set up the blasting powder Randulf had given them, and stepped back. The rocks burst in a great explosion, and the river poured free.

Suddenly, the group felt a malevolent force approaching from below. It was almost a psychic rumble. This turned into a horrifying voice shrieking “I’m free!” Crohm panicked, and jumped into the river [failed Wisdom save]. The rest ran to the south.

They ran all the way out of the dungeon and down the mountain before the calmed. Crohm was sitting, embarrassed, by the side of the river, and they patched him.

The party was greeted to a hero’s welcome back in Slyhow. Everyone was out cheering for them as they walked to Randulf’s tower. Randulf paid them what they were promised, and identified some of the magical items they couldn’t figure out.

They also told Randulf of the ghost. He seemed concerned, and suggested they keep this to themselves for now. The group agreed, and prepared to celebrate their great victory.

The Elder God’s Cavern, level 1, part 1

As I’ve discussed a bit on Twitter, I’m working on a multi-level dungeon crawl for 5e D&D. I was inspired by the Basic Set for original D&D, which included a sample dungeon and tips for expanding it. I first found this when I was a kid—it was my dad’s—and fell in love with D&D. So when I pulled it out recently, a lot of nostalgia for a nice old dungeon crawl came back.

At some point I will write on why sword and sorcery, episodic campaigns are so great, and that’s what I was going for with this dungeon. Given the great response to the Tales from the Yawning Portal—a published book collecting classic dungeon crawls—I doubt I’m alone in this.

So after reading through the D&D basic set dungeon, I decided to make my own that would bring characters from levels 1 to 5. I recently ran a group of players through the first level, and am close to finishing preparation for level 2. In these posts, I will follow the format of my other walkthroughs (see here for the most recent), discussing what happened and providing some of my thoughts on the experience. I am going to wait to discuss how I put the entire dungeon together until after the players complete it, in case any of them read this blog.

We ran level 1 at the great Killer Rabbit Comics and Games in South Burlington, VT. At the table were Nailo (an elf ranger), Callie (a Halfling rogue), Crohm (a human fighter), and Black Lotus (a drow monk). Callie’s player dropped out after the first session, so she was replaced by Uatu (Halfling warlock).

The adventure opens with the group sitting in a tavern in the village of Slyhow, down on their luck. They met each other, decided to go adventuring, and set out for the wild borderlands. Travelling from town to town, they found it difficult to get started in their careers. After being kicked out of the city of Fayrfeld for not paying bar tabs, they ended up in Slyhow, where they had just spent their last coin on a round of drinks [I am considering setting future adventures in and around these two towns, and building it into a broader campaign]

Suddenly, a nervous man—Jonn—walked up to their table. He told them he works for Randulf, the local sorcerer—my readers may recognize him—who requested the group’s help. Jonn led them to the edge of town, where Randulf’s tower perched gloomily on a cliff. They ascended winding staircases till they reached the top level, where Randulf waited for them.

He was an older man, wearing a sickly gray cloak. A bat fluttered around the ceiling. Randulf introduced himself, and asked the group’s help. Apparently the river that flows by the town had dried up a few weeks ago, and the town was starting to suffer. It flows from the highlands to the west of town, and cuts into and out of a hill a half days’ journey from Slyhow. Something caused it to stop flowing, and he wants the group to investigate.

When they pressed him for more information, he admitted it may be more dangerous than it sounds. The hill was the site of an unknown wizard’s tower, who disappeared a century ago, before the town’s founding. The river flows through caverns in the mountain, some of which are not natural. Over time, monsters moved into these caverns, and there have been periodic raids on villagers and merchants who traveled too close to the hill. The group sensed there was something more he wasn’t telling them, but they couldn’t get any more information [they rolled well on insight, but Randulf is crafty]

After signing a contract in which each member would be paid 100gp for restoring the river, the group went back to the inn. Word must have spread while they slept, because the innkeeper gave them a free, hearty breakfast and townsfolk had gathered outside the inn. The whole village cheered them as these excited adventurers headed out into the wilderness.

After a few hours they reached the hill. The dry riverbank they had been following curved to the north, and a switchback path up the hill veered off from the road. The group followed this path to the top of the hill, where they found stairs leading into the ground on its southern end. They investigated a bit, and found a dammed up area where the river used to flow from on the north end. They also found goblin tracks, although they couldn’t identify how many or how recent they were [the ranger used his survival skills well]

The group descended, warily. The room they entered looked like an old pantry, with dust covered barrels and shelves arrayed around the floor. Besides the dust, they saw a strange yellow soot covering all surfaces. Suddenly, Nailo shouted; he had noticed a dire wolf slinking in an alcove of the room. It attacked.

Callie moved to hide in the shadows as the dire wolf burst past her. Black Lotus, in turn, leapt down the stairs and tried to kick the wolf but missed. Nailo fired an arrow, hitting the wolf in the side. This enraged the dire wolf, and it lunged and bit him, wounding him severely.

Crohm had now made into the room. He swung his greatsword with all his might…but lost his grip and threw it across the room [he rolled a natural 1, I like to be creative with these]

As the dire wolf moved to bite Nailo again, Black Lotus managed to knock it prone, and the group surrounded it, killing it. They found some gold and gems among the corpses of the dire wolf’s victims, and moved on [it was risky to start a level 1 adventure with a tough monster, but I wanted to make it believable that no one would venture into this dungeon]

The group headed west down a corridor that eventually turned to the north. They came on a door in the east, which was stuck. Crohm smashed it easily—the wood was rotten—and they went through.

This room looked like the old cistern for the caverns. There was a stone pit full of refuse and muck, and a drainpipe into the ceiling that had been blocked with dirt. As the group was investigating giant rats burst from the pit and attacked.

Two attacked Nailo. He managed to kill one with an arrow before they reached him, but the other bit him, wounding him even more. Crohm roared and swung, but missed the rats and struck the stone pit; the sword bounced back and cut his forehead [another critical failure]. The rest of the group rallied, and easily killed the remaining rats. They found some more treasure the rats had hidden in their nest.

The group found a passageway to the north, which they followed into a filthy room filled with refuse and humanoid waste. Crohm investigated the waste, and identified it as goblin [I didn’t want to think about how he identified it…]

Realizing they were near more enemies, the group advanced stealthily. They went through another passage to the north, sneaking into a room containing two goblins. One was watching at an open door to the east, the other was at an alcove to the west. Black Lotus and Callie were able to sneak up and kill both goblins before they could react.

More goblins came from the north, and the group exchanged fire with them as they dove for cover. Nailo managed to kill one, and the other surrendered. Suddenly, the group noticed Callie had disappeared in the fight [the player had to leave early, and I wanted to give her a chance to rejoin later]

A little concerned about this, the group pressed the goblin for information. Crohm managed to calm the squealing creature, and got much useful information out of him [rolled a natural 20 on persuasion]. The goblin said they served Bort, a hobgoblin, who was in a room at the northern end of the dungeon. This is also where the river used to flow through. The goblin said the main approach to the room was trapped, while other approaches were locked, but there was a lever to open the locks in the northwest part of the dungeon. The group tied him up, and moved on.

To the north they found the goblin’s camp, including a good amount of treasure. This included some much needed healing potions [no one in the group could heal]

Following the goblin’s lead, they continued north down a long corridor. They came to a door in the west wall, and went inside. This appeared to be an ancient chapel, with pews and an altar. What caught the group’s attention, though, were friezes on the walls depicting horrible, tentacle beasts devouring humanoid creatures. The group moved on.

They followed the corridor all the way to the north until it ended in a door. Opening it, the group walked into an otherworldly scene. This looked like another chapel, with a pulpit in the center that seemed to have a space for some sort of sphere. The ceiling had a design of a pulpy, tentacle creature reaching out and grasping human cities, which were arranged around the corners.

In the northeast corridor of the room, a pool of water seeped under the wall and spilled into a deep rift in the floor. Whenever a stream of water fell into the rift, a burst of sickly yellow steam shot out. Beyond the rift, the group saw an alcove, with a bit of a lever visible; the rest was submerged under water.

The group edged carefully up to the rift, looked inside, and two chokers leapt from the rift.

One gripped Crohm’s neck with its tentacles, nearly knocking him unconscious. The other grabbed Nailo, strangling him [he was low on hit points]

Crohm broke free of the choker and stabbed it. Meanwhile, Black Lotus leapt through the air to deliver a knockout blow…but misjudged the height of the monster and sailed overhead [he rolled a critical failure]

Crohm, meanwhile, killed the choker he was fighting and rushed over to Nailo. Nailo was passed out, and close to death, with the choker’s arms still around his neck. Crohm roared a challenge, swung mightily to chop the choker’s arms off and free his friend…and missed, slashing Nailo’s shoulder and nearly killing him [another critical failure]

Black Lotus recovered from his missed attack, however, and killed the choker. He revived Nailo, and the group gathered their breath.

Black Lotus decided to check out the lever in the alcove. He swam underwater, struggled to lift the lever, and heard the sound of gears activating as he did.

Crohm, meanwhile, noticed a treasure chest on a shelf in the rift. He climbed into it, but didn’t watch the timing of the steam. A burst hit him in the face, and he was overcome with maniacal laughter. [The steam gives you a level of madness unless you pass a Constitution saving throw]

The group laid out their bedrolls far away from the rift, and Nailo and Black Lotus tried desperately to sleep in between Crohm’s bursts of laughter.

Tune in next week for the conclusion of The Elder God’s Cavern, level 1.

Out of the Abyss session 4: Entering Blingdenstone

Last week in this continuing walkthrough of D&D’s excellent “Out of the Abyss” campaign, the group made their way from Gracklestugh to Blingdenstone. The group consists of Navarre (half-elf rogue), Varys (half-drow ranger), Zinaella (half-elf paladin), Barakus (tiefling monk), and Brynn (gnome wizard).

After escaping the flooding temple with their new friend Glabagool (a sentient gelatinous cube), the group approached Blingdenstone. The tunnels had been sloping consistently upwards. This part of the journey was uneventful, although they spent one entire day hearing horrid shrieking from side passages. After a few more days, two deep gnomes appeared out of nowhere and ordered the group to halt.

Seeing Topsy with them—and apparently in no danger—they brought the group into an obscured tunnel nearby. They realized this was a deep gnome mine, and soon met Dasco Pickshine, the owner. The group introduced themselves to him, and told him of their journey. Dasco offered to let the group tag along on an ore shipment he had bound for Blingdenstone if they could provide protection.

They agreed, and were about to leave when Zinaella noticed a hand slipping into his pack. He grabbed the would-be deep gnome thief. Dasco was horrified, and Topsy noted how unheard of theft is among the deep gnomes. Dasco motioned to two guards, who proceeded to beat the thief mercilessly. All of the group knew this was also strange. They ran into a bit more trouble when they introduced Glabbagool to the deep gnomes, but they managed to convince them their friend was safe.

Everyone boarded the wagon with the ore shipment, where another deep gnome was waiting. Dasco introduced her as Nomi Pathshutter, who maintained the deep gnome’s earth elemental summoning stations. After hearing of the group’s travels, she told them of Ogremoch’s Bane—an evil force that corrupted elementals. She asked them for samples of any insane earth elementals they encountered.

The group travelled for half a day when suddenly two pools of strange-looking liquid rose up and attacked. They raced to what they realized were ochre jellies, but the group kept slashing at the jellies with their weapons. This caused the jellies to split and multiply, till there were soon over half a dozen attacking them. Eventually the group realized what was happening, switched their tactics, and destroyed all the jellies. Dasco thanked them for their help, and noted that attacks by oozes and the like were increasing in frequency.

They arrived at the gates of Blingdenstone, thick steel doors set high above the tunnel. Guards called down, asking for the group’s names and information. Dasco vouched for them, gaining them entry, but the guards refused to allow a gelatinous cube—even a friendly one—into the city. Glabbaool agreed to wait outside.

The group dismounted, and the cart was moved onto a lift that rose high up the cavern well. They ascended the narrow steps and entered into the gates. Guards led them through a maze pockmarked with murder holes. They then took them a narrow passage with slots for archers at either end.

They were beginning to feel intimidated—with memories of the dour duergar city in their minds—when they entered Blingdenstone itself. It was the first time they truly felt welcome in the Underdark. Warm light illuminated cozy homes dug into the walls, and friendly—but wary—deep gnomes moved about in every direction. Dasco said he had to unload his goods, but pointed the group towards the Traders’ Grotto market and the temple [Navarre wanted to find a way to get rid of his curse].

The group headed to the temple first, and found a friendly acolyte. After listening to their situation, he said the priest could likely help, but was away until tomorrow. While there, they laid to rest the remains of the deep gnome whose ghost they encountered in Gracklestugh. Suddenly, a ghost rose out of the ground. The group was friendly, and soon found out this was one of the deep gnomes who fell in a long-ago battle with the drow. The ghost mentioned some of his fellow ghosts remained lost and hostile, and asked the group to help. After agreeing, they decided to head to the Traders’ Grotto. This was a magnificent area, full of petrified mushrooms of all sizes.

They waded through the crowds and the stalls until they found Werz Saltbaron, the merchant they were tasked with bringing gems to in Gracklestugh. He acted very strangely when they showed him the gems, ordering the group to keep them out of sight. Realizing he was involved in something shady, the group managed to get double the payment he offered.

Heading away from the grumbling Werz, the group stopped short as they saw a deep gnome guard rise into the air. As the crowd around them screamed and ran, they realized what had happened: two gelatinous cubes had broken into the city! The group moved to attack.

They first tried to get the guard free. Barakus stuck an iron bar he had into the cube for the guard to grab, but he couldn’t reach it. Then Zinaella and Navarre tried slashing the cube open, but it kept reforming.

Meanwhile, the cubes had surrounded the group, and one lunged at Navarre, engulfing him. He took significant damage as the cube began to digest him; the group could also see the guard was near death.

They doubled their efforts, focusing on killing the cubes. A series of punishing blows from Barakus and Zinaella, and well-placed arrows from Varys managed to kill the cube containing the guard. He fell forward, nearly dead. Meanwhile, Brynn focused her offensive spells on the cube with Navarre, killing it just as he was about to fall unconscious.

The Traders’ Grotto erupted in cheers as the deep gnomes surrounded the heroes. The guard they saved led the crowd in thanking their new heroes, and the party was carried off to the Foaming Mug, Blingdenstone’s tavern.

The owner gave the group free food and drinks, and they celebrated deep into the night. The next morning, they were awoken at a horribly early hour by an insistent knocking on the door. A young deep gnome told them they were summoned by Senni and Dorbo Diggermattock, the city’s leaders. Fighting off their hangovers, the group headed out into the city.

The Diggermattocks were waiting in the assembly hall, surrounded by guards and retainers. They thanked the group for their efforts. In turn, the group asked for help reaching the surface. The deep gnomes informed them they could lead them to the elf temple they had heard about, which led to the surface, but could not spare any guides now: the city was in danger.

Blingdenstone was under attack by hordes of oozes, as the group had noticed. They needed to figure out why this was occurring or they would be unable to secure the city. Additionally, a group of wererats had seized part of the city. The deep gnomes and the wererats frequently skirmished, further heightening the city’s insecurity. The group offered to do what they could, and the deep gnomes told them of two operations they had planned. [I liked my dialogue here, so I am including it]

Senni said, “one mission would be to investigate the source of the ooze attacks.”

Dorbo, whispered to her, “tell them the name of it, tell them the name.”

Senni, sighed. “It’s Operation: ooze there.” All the deep gnomes, except Senni, giggled.

Dorbo then added, “the other is “Operation Exterminate.”

“With a question mark,” Senni cut in

Dorbo sighed. “Yes, with a question mark.”

The group was tasked with uncovering the source of the ooze attacks, and determining how much of a threat the wererats posed (and whether they needed to be driven from the city).

Before heading out, they stopped by the temple to find the priest. The priest was friendly, although he kept launching into long-winded lectures until his acolyte interrupted him. He said he would like to help rid Navarre of his curse, but was wary of crossing Lolth without more power. Their original temple had been defiled, weakening his connection to their deity. The priest therefore asked the group to cleanse their temple with a spell gem. The temple was in a portion of the city infected with Ogremoch’s Bane, so no one had been able to accomplish this task yet.

The group then set out on their quest. They first visited the wererat’s territory. The deep gnome guards reluctantly opened the doors that barred the passageway, then quickly locked it after the group went through. They sneak forward carefully, coming to a fork. One direction smelled foul, the other less foul, so the group turned in the less foul direction.

Suddenly four poison arrows shot out of the wall, all flying directly at Zinaella. He panicked, and didn’t even try to dodge as they all hit him [really bad dexterity check], causing him to pass out. Four wererats surrounded the group, and moved to attack.

Thinking quickly, the group began trying to talk down the guards. They promised they didn’t come for a fight, and even offered to put down their weapons if they can handle this peacefully. The wererats agreed [good persuasion checks], and took the disarmed group (dragging the limp Zinaella) to their leader.

There the group met Goldwhisker, the portly leader of the wererats. He explained they are deep gnomes afflicted with lycanthropy, and moved to this abandoned area. They resented the deep gnomes’ attempts to steal their territory, especially as they considered themselves as part of the city’s defenses. Specifically, they said they are under constant attacks by oozes and might have to flee soon. This would leave Blingdenstone even more insecure.

Goldwhisker said he wants reassurance that the Diggermattocks will let them live, and he’ll help the city against the oozes. The group agreed and returned to the deep gnome leadership. Unfortunately, the Diggermattocks were not convinced, and needed more proof of the wererats’ willingness to help [bad persuasion checks].

So the group returned to Goldwhisker, and convinced him to give them more to work with. He agreed to take the group through a secret passageway into the ooze-held area, to show them what they’re up against. The group followed, and saw hundreds of oozes gathered in a cavern. Beyond that was a strange-looking deep gnome who seemed to be able to command the oozes. With this new information, the group headed back [I’ll discuss this below, but I got a little lost in the book here—it was unclear how Goldwhisker would show them this, so I improvised]

As they were returning, they heard a voice calling for help from a side passage in broken Undercommon. The group rushed forward, and saw a black pudding advancing on a dust mephit and an earth elemental. The group attacked.

Zinaella, Barakus and Navarre all managed to hit the pudding, but the effects were not what they hoped. Acid sprayed onto all of them as they hit the ooze, injuring them. And when Zinaella slashed the pudding with his sword, it broke into two separate oozes [Barakus used his fists (ouch) and Navarre used the mace they got from Glabbagool]. Brynn, meanwhile, cast a ray of frost at the ooze, which fizzled and did nothing. So Varys showered the pudding with arrows until both halves of it shriveled up and died.

The dust mephit was very thankful. It explained that it and his friend—the elemental—were trying to leave the city when they were cornered by the pudding. They were treated well in Blingdenstone, and wanted to help, so they told the group of some information they had picked up in their travels: the location of Entemoch’s Boon. The pair them headed off into a side passage.

The group then returned to the Diggermattocks and told them what they found. The deep gnomes decided to hold a council, and invited the wererats. Also in attendance were Nomi Pathshutter, the friendly ghosts the group had encountered, the priest and acolyte, and representatives of the city’s armory.

The council quickly realized the seriousness of the threat they faced. The ghosts suggested freeing several of their number from evil influence, and the ghosts could join in. Nomi, meanwhile, argued that more earth elementals are needed, and finding Entemoch’s Boon would help.  The priest then chimed in, and suggested cleansing his temple would also help.

The Diggermattocks then turned to the group and asked for their further help. The group agreed, and offered to sneak past the oozes to take care of the Pudding King while the main force of the deep gnomes attacks. They also said they met a nice dust mephit who was friends with all the deep gnomes; at this the assembly burst out laughing at this ridiculous idea [I was getting tired, and thought it’d be funny for no one to know what the group was talking about]. The group brushed this off, and said they had the location for Entemoch’s Boon, at which the assembly was amazed.

The group also pushed the Diggermattocks to let the wererats stay in the city. The leadership was skeptical [the group kept rolling bad persuasion checks]. Eventually, Varys suggested they decide based on pure military necessity; they needed extra personnel and defenses, and the wererats would provide this. This convinced the DIggermattocks, and they reluctantly agreed to peace with the wererats [I let each group member come up with a reason to let the wererats stay and roll persuasion, Varys rolled well].

The council adjourned. The deep gnomes and wererats would begin preparations for the attack. While that was occurring, the group were tasked with helping improve their capabilities. They must find Entemoch’s Boon and cleanse the temple to aid in summoning Earth Elementals, and deal with the hostile ghosts to free up the ghosts to join in.

The group returned to the Foaming Mug for another good meal, and a good night’s sleep in preparation for the…Battle for Blingdenstone!

Just a few closing thoughts on this part of the adventure, as this post is getting long. I stuck with the middle of the road approach to random encounters on the travel; I used the set encounters and then a few random encounters that seemed fun (meeting the Society of Brilliance, the gas leak). This definitely was my preferred route. The set encounters are great, so it would be a shame to miss them. But unless the group really wants a long adventure in which they immerse themselves in the Underdark, I’d be sparing with the random encounters.

Blingdenstone was my favorite of the three settlements the group visited. It had varied encounters and will build to a great climax (unlike Gracklestugh). As I mentioned, I got a bit lost with Goldwhisker telling the group about the Pudding King. That was one of the many areas in which the book may just want DMs to improvise.

Finally, a programming note: my group decided to do one more session with Out of the Abyss then shuffle things up (including giving me a break from DM-ing). I’m running another series of D&D adventures (the multi-level dungeon I mentioned on Twitter), and the group may rotate walkthrough write-up duties, so these posts will continue in a different form.

Out of the Abyss session 4: Approaching Blingdenstone

Last time, our heroes become embroiled in Gracklestugh politics, ended up allied with the powers that be, and were given directions to Blingdenstone, along with permission to leave the city. As usual, we had Navarre (a half-elf rogue), Barakus (tiefling monk), Varys (half-drow ranger), Zinaella (half-elf paladin) and Brynn (gnome wizard). Brynn was absent for the last session (a player was away) but she’ll rejoin the group this time. Also in tow was Topsy, a deep gnome wererat NPC.

The group left Gracklestugh, and had a few uneventful days of travel. The tunnels gradually became less organized and ordered, as signs of the duergar craftsmanship faded into the chaos of the Underdark. As they entered a broad cavern filled with a glowing mist (faerzress), they heard voices up ahead. Barakus and Navarre snuck up, and saw Brynn—who had left the group after Neverlight Grove to travel with the myconids—talking with a derro. This derro was well-dressed and calm (unlike others they had encountered) and appeared to be instructing Brynn in something.

The two revealed themselves, and Brynn introduced them to the Derro, Y. He was a member of the Society of Brilliance, a group dedicated to understanding all of the Underdark. The rest of the group joined them, and they all began catching up on their various adventures.

Suddenly, crossbow bolts shot out of the dark. Navarre and Zinaella were hit, while the others sailed over the group’s heads. Navarre collapsed, while Zinaella fought off what he soon realized was drow poison [the drow pursuit hadn’t really come up yet, so I wanted to use it here]. The group sprung into action [the drow scouts rolled high on sneak, and Navarre failed his Constitution saving throw against the drow poison]

Varys spotted four drow scouts crouched behind a ledge, and began firing arrows to give the rest of the group cover. Zinaella rushed to Navarre to try and wake him, while Barakus teleported through the shadows to reappear behind the drow [he used misty step]. As Navarre groggily opened his eyes, Brynn cast a ray of frost at the drow. The spell fizzled as she cast it, however, and she felt strangely powerful [I rolled on the wild magic table because of the faerzress, and the spell granted her resistance].

Barakus began attacking the drow, felling one. They managed to wound him in their counterattack, although one swung too hard and fell over the ledge, falling in front of the party [he rolled a 1 in his attack]. Navarre raced up to join the fight, while Zinaella rather unsportingly killed the prone drow [I considered penalizing him here as a paladin, but let it slide]. Suddenly a modron, a sentient clockwork being, appeared in the combat and began walking around in circles.

The group found this odd, but focused on their task and quickly killed the rest of the drow. Navarre gathered their poisoned crossbow bolts and grabbed one of the hand crossbows as Y ran up. He explained he had tried to summon the rest of the Society, but the modron appeared instead. Something in the faerzress had been interfering with magic lately.

Y tried again, and the remaining members of the Society appeared. They were a troglodyte, an orc, a mind-flayer, and a kuo-toa. The group didn’t have much time to learn more about this strange organization, as just then the drow priestess who had captured them burst into the cavern, flanked by guards and another priestess.

The Society of Brilliance demanded the drow leave, and not interfere with their business but the priestess was intent on reclaiming her captives. As the drow advanced, the Society worked together to cast a spell, teleporting the drow out of the cavern. Unfortunately, the faerzress caused the party to teleport as well. They reappeared out of sight of the cavern, and the Society.

They decided to continue to Blingdenstone. The group heading through zig-zagging tunnels sloping upwards till they came to a broad plateau. As they crossed it, they arrived at a vast cavern filled end to end with spider webs. Barakus recognized this as the famed Silken Paths [a set encounter]. The group then debated whether to try and cross the Paths, or to find a way around. Varys, Barakus and Brynn voted to cross, while Navarre and Zinaella voted to go around. As majority rules prevailed, they decided to head forward.

The group set out carefully across the webs, trying to stick to the stronger and thicker strands. After a short distance, the entire strand they were walking across snapped. Brynn, Varys and Barakus fell 30 feet, landing on and sticking to another strand of webs. Zinaella and Navarre managed to grab hold of the strands as they broke, but realized they were far from safe. Five giant spiders crawled towards the group, drawn by the vibrations in the web.

As they approached Zinaella and Navarre, they stopped, glanced back and forth between the two, and as one attacked Navarre. Three of them managed to bite him, while he dodged the other two. He was wracked with pain from the bites and the poison, but managed to stay upright. Varys, meanwhile, climbed up the webs to help as Zinaella killed one of the spiders. Once again, however, Navarre’s selfish nature won out and he dove for the lower strand, leaving Zinaella to his fate [he’s a CN character, so does things like this often, although no one called him on it]

The spiders were not interested in Zinaella, however. Two of the spiders leapt down after Navarre, while the other two fired webs at him. Too injured to dodge them, Navarre soon became completely covered in spider webs.

Suddenly, the group heard “Yuk-Yuk and Spiderbait to the rescue!” in goblin-accented Undercommon. Two goblins slid down a series of webs, hurling jars of fire at the spiders as they did. They managed to drive off the spiders, and freed Navarre.

The goblins introduced themselves as “web surfers,” who travelled up and down the Silken Paths. They offered to take the group through for 6gp a day [it was supposed to be 2gp, but the group rolled badly on charisma checks in conversation]. The group agreed, and they set off.

As they did, they discussed why the spiders had fixated on Navarre. Barakus remembered Navarre had stolen gems from the temple of Lolth in the drow camp. They realized they might be cursed. Fishing them out of his pack, Navarre dropped the gems into the ravine.

They traveled a day without incident, although there were a few near misses as party members almost slid off the webs. That night, they stopped in a spot where multiple webs came together, creating a sort of hammock. As he turned in his sleep, Navarre felt something jab him in the side; opening his pack, he found the gems he had tossed away. He did not sleep well that night. The next day was also uneventful, and they traveled carefully through the ravine until resting on filthy rags the goblins laid out over the webs. [I wasn’t rolling anything when I checked for random encounters]

The third and final day, as they neared the other side, Navarre noticed movement up ahead. The entire group hid among the webs, and watched as they saw a spectator—a minor beholder—float through the webs. The group waited till it had passed, they sneaked forward, avoiding its notice [I was a little disappointed, as this would have been a cool fight. Oh well].

Yuk-Yuk and Spiderbait brought the group onto solid ground, took their payment, and “surfed” back through the webs, disappearing from sight.

The group travelled on, eventually coming to a stream that was bordered by beautiful and bounteous mushrooms. They realized the stream must flow into Neverlight Grove. After stocking up on food, they moved on.

The paths they were following sloped downward, eventually opening up into a broad cavern. As they walked forward, the group began to feel woozy. Navarre realized it was natural gas, but Brynn thought the air felt fresh and they should travel on [she rolled a 1 on perception]. Navarre won out, and the group retreated into the tunnel. They decided to fire a flaming arrow into the cavern to ignite the gas, so they could continue [this was a very bad idea, but I thought it would be fun to see through]

The group backed up until they hit a curve in the tunnel, and Varys fired. At first the flame seemed to sputter, when suddenly the entire cavern lit up with flame. A fireball tore down the tunnel towards them, throwing the group against the wall and injuring all of them.

As they stood up, their ears ringing, they heard two things. One was the sound of shouting coming from behind them; they could hear the unmistakable criesof the drow. The other noise was a rumbling coming from above and in front of them, which gradually got louder. They realized the cavern was about to come down around them, so they ran forward just as the drow came into sight.

The ceiling collapsed, and the drow disappeared among the rocks and boulders. The group ran on for a short distance before the tunnel both ahead and behind them collapsed. They were trapped, until they noticed a crack had appeared in the formerly solid tunnel wall next to them. Zinaella grabbed his crowbar and began prying at the crack, and they found a passage beyond it. [this is the Oozing Palace set encounter, which I thought worked well with the cave in]

Moving into the passage, the group realized this was some sort of humanoid-made structure. The corridors were straight, and paved with stones. The walls were covered with decaying tiles. But everything was moist and slimy, with dripping noises echoing faintly around the group.

They moved forward into a larger chamber when suddenly Zinaella screamed out in pain. A grey ooze had dropped onto him, burning his armor. Navarre rushed forward to scrape it off, dissolving his dagger in the process. As the ooze fell on the ground, Zinaella and Barakus—both of whom had magic weapons—hit it until it shriveled up.

The group moved on, but stopped as they saw what looked like a skeleton floating in the passage ahead of them. Suddenly, they heard “who am I? what are you?” in their heads. They soon realized they were looking at a gelatinous cube, but one that could apparently communicate telepathically.

They tried to be friendly, and struck up a rapport with the creature. It called itself Glabbagool, and only recent became self-aware. It told them of its “friends” in the tunnels ahead, and their hunger. When the group mentioned they were heading to Blingdenstone, it said it felt a “call” to that city. [I tried to roleplay this a bit, having Glabbagool act confused about the creatures he was talking with. After one of the group said “like us,” Glabbagool used “us” as a signifier- “you-us,” “me-us.” I think it had the desired effect]

The group moved on. As they entered another larger room, a grey ooze tried to drop onto Varys but missed. They quickly killed it. After that, Glabbagool offered to travel ahead of the group to protect them.

They came to a dead end cavern that was slowly filling up with water. After searching it and finding nothing, they backtracked till they found a narrow passageway. Glabbagool went first. After travelling halfway down the passage he suddenly sunk into the ground. They realized he had fallen into a pit. Glabbagool told them of his “hungry friend” in the pit. Interpreting this to mean another ooze [it was actually a black pudding] they decided to jump over the cube, them have him follow them to block the ooze.

It was a good plan, in theory. Everyone jumped safely over except Brynn and Varys, who fell short and landed on Glabbagool, taking acid damage. He was very apologetic.

Moving on, they found a room with a crumbling fountain in the center and statues in niches along the wall. The group searched the room and found a magic dagger, some gold, and potions in the fountain, but no way out. Thankfully, no one touched the “statues” [which were actually oozes].

They went back to the cavern and saw that it was now knee deep full of water. After deliberating for a bit, Varys boosted Navarre up to look at a crack in the ceiling where water was coming in. He reached his hand through the crack [kind of a risky move, but I decided not to mess with them] and felt more water up above them. The group decided to try and break open a passageway in the ceiling and swim away, hoping they could find dry land. After chipping away at the ceiling, the group members swam up—Glabbagool floated—and realized they were in a gently flowing river. They came to the bank, dried off, and moved on.

Tune in next week for the group’s adventures in Blingdenstone…

Out of the Abyss Session 3: Embroiled in Gracklestugh

Last time, the group made their way to Gracklestugh and realized something was amiss. Chaos was spreading in the orderly duergar city as they tried to find information on how to escape the Underdark…

The next day the group headed out into the city, in the hopes of finding some information on a way out of the Underdark (as well as a way to get out of Gracklestugh…). While walking around the market, they bumped into another group of orcs. The orcs, eying the half-elves, tiefling and deep gnome, decided to try and pick a fight. They didn’t have much luck until they made a crack about tieflings, at which point Barakus stepped up to the orc and deployed his monk martial arts, felling the orc in a flurry of blows. Suddenly 6 duergar appeared out of thin air, and ordered both groups to come with them. [I thought about warning the group that any fighting would lead to arrest, but this was more fun]

Navarre immediately began plotting an escape, but they agreed to go with the guards. The party was shackled, and led through the market. After a short distance, a horrid shouting interrupted their arrest. A two-headed stone giant was rampaging through the streets, crushing any duergar who got in its way. The group suggested the duergar release them so they can help, and—after assuring the group the punishment they would receive if they tried to escape—the duergar removed the restraints.

The group leapt into action, trying to counter the giant’s advance. As they began to fight it, Zinaella [thanks to a good insight check] realized that something was wrong; not only do giants not often have two heads, but this one seemed terrified, not angry. He informed the rest of the group, and they agreed to try and subdue it without killing it. The duergar were not interested in this course of action, but thankfully the group was able to get in several good hits before the duergar could mobilize. They brought the giant down without killing it.

After it fell, another giant (this one one-headed) came into the market, and bent over its fallen comrade. He informed the party that the giant had suddenly sprouted a second head and went mad, rushing out of their haven. The giants lived in the southern part of the city, helping the duergar secure it in exchange for maintaining their separate abode [the group didn’t ask why the giants were here, so I didn’t tell them any of this]. He expressed appreciation for the group’s mercy towards his comrade, and informed the guards that he wanted the group brought to see his leader.

The duergar grudgingly agreed, leading the group towards the giant’s enclave. They passed through strong gates into a furrow in the ground, with residential areas visible at each end of the furrow. The party then moved into the southern, secluded section of the city and were eventually brought to the giants.

Their restraints were removed, and the guards warned them they should not try anything funny, as they were being watched. The group moved inside, whispering to each other about how to escape as they went [I think they were over confident after their relatively easy escape from the drow]. They were brought before the giant’s chief, who thanked them again for their help and told them of his concerns for the Underdark. He spoke of horrors emerging from the shadows, and madness spreading. He also told them of a vision he had of a elven temple near the city of the Deep Gnomes that could guide them to the surface [they have been getting pieces of this information since their escape from the drow]. Finally, the chief gave them a stonespeaker crystal as a sign of thanks, and bid them farewell.

When they left the audience chamber, the duergar guards were waiting for them, so the group thought it best to cooperate. They were restrained again, and brought to the dungeons in the city government building. After waiting a few hours, they heard a group of duergar approaching.

Out of the gloom appeared several duergar guard, and a woman who was obviously their leader. She introduced herself as Errde Blackskull, and offered to release the group if they would do her a favor. They immediately agreed, and she told them of her concerns about corruption spreading throughout the city, which she attributed to the derro leaders. She wanted the group to find a derro she believed was their agent—named Droki—and track him to his compatriots. Agreeing, the party was given insignia that would grant them free movement throughout the city. Finally, after a long and eventful day, they grabbed a few more drinks at the tavern, then returned to their rooms at the inn.

The next morning the group headed into the market to look for Droki. They attempted to question a few merchants, but had little luck and experienced more of the strange behavior. One merchant kept talking to what he claimed was his invisible twin brother, who advised the merchant to not help the group out. Eventually the group got frustrated, and began to search for themselves [the book instructed the DM to not have merchants tell the party about Droki, and I just told the group this after a few tries as I didn’t want them to get annoyed].

After walking around a bit, the group noticed a shifty looking derro with a strange tentacled hat darting through the stalls. They tracked him through the crowd until he noticed them following him and took off. The group decided this must be Droki [they were right] and ran after him. They lost him in the crowd for a bit, but managed to circle around possible exits and find him again as he went through the gates into the furrow.

Following behind, the group saw him heading towards one of the derro settlements at the end of the furrow. He knew they were behind him, and took off running but the group generally managed to keep up. At one point Zinaella tripped and fell in a pile of muck he hoped was mud, and Varys got slowed down by obstructions but Barakus and Navarre kept up with the derro. [I ran this as a chase with complications, although few came up so I tried to provide a narrative when characters rolled badly]

Suddenly they found themselves in a cramped, dank, filthy residential area. Crude huts were carved into the cavern walls and hundreds of derro milled about, screaming at each other when they bumped into another derro. Nearly as one, the derro noticed the interlopers entering their home, and followed them with their eyes as the group advanced, gradually closing in around the group.

The group tried to push through to keep an eye on droki, but were struggling thanks to the derro who now crowded around and occasionally pawed at them. They managed to carefully make their way through the district until they saw Droki disappear into a crack in a wall that leaked a strange glowing mist. Navarre suggested returning to Errde Blackskull to let her know where Droki went and get reinforcements, but when they turned around they saw the entire population of derro were now in the streets watching the group. They decided to press on, and figure out what to do about the derro later, so they went into the caves.

As they entered they saw Droki look back and notice them still behind them. He shrieked, ran to a crack in the wall, picked a mushroom and—after eating it—shrunk down to the size of a mouse and disappeared into the wall. The group moved forward when they heard a familiar sounding cackling behind them. Buppido stepped out of a side passage, thanked the group for coming to worship at his ascension, and asked them to join him in his haven.

The group was not interested, and ignored Buppido. He flew into a rage and attacked. The group rushed away from him in an attempt to follow Droki. They grabbed the mushrooms he ate, shrunk to his size and followed him into the crack. [once again, the NPC twist reveal didn’t work out]

The group ran through the crack behind Droki and emerged into a broader tunnel. He ran forward into a dense thicket of fungus and disappeared again. The party ran after him through the thicket. As they went, they inadvertently disturbed a swarm of centipedes who attacked.

This was a bigger danger than it would have been if the group was normal sized. The centipedes scored numerous hits, with Zinaella and Navarre in particular taking serious damage. Barakus and Varys managed to push their way through the thicket; once they were clear the centipedes stopped following them (focusing on their friends instead). Navarre soon made it out, injured but alive. Zinaella—about to fall to the centipedes—cast “misty step” and teleported past the thicket, landing on top of Droki.

The rest of the group caught up to them, helping to restrain the derro. Suddenly they felt a tingling and they all burst back to their full size. In the confusion, Droki broke free but the group grabbed him quickly and pummeled him until he submitted [I think they enjoyed that]. The group tried to get him to talk, slapping him a bit, but he wouldn’t say anything besides squeaks and snarls [bad intimidation rolls]

Eventually, the group decided to go through his pack. This set him off, and he became panicked when they found some strange pieces of rock and a sack of giant skin flakes and fingernails. He begged them to leave the objects alone, as “the cult” would kill him if anything happened. Realizing they were making progress, the group suggested they take the bound Droki and his objects to the cult themselves to see if they would talk. This scared him and he told them everything. He admitted to working for a cult of duergar attempting to corrupt and spread madness in the giants and eventually the city itself.

Satisfied, the group left the caves [there was a much bigger dungeon to explore, but we decided to move past it as we were running out of time in our session]. As they were leaving, they noticed a disembodied gnome hand crawling on the ground. The ghost of a deep gnome then appeared. He told the group he had been killed by Buppido and asked them if they could return his hand to Blingenstone so he could rest in peace. They agreed—although they were a little unsettled to have an animated hand in their packs—and headed out with Droki.

For the sake of time, I narrated the rest of their time in Gracklestugh. They made their way past the derro crowds, and returned to Errde. They told her of the cult, and she ordered her forces to arrest all suspects, and to prepare plans to get rid of all the derro [this was meant to be some hints of Errde’s own madness, but the group didn’t focus on it]. She then gave them exit papers for the city and general directions for Blingdenstone, thanking them for their help.

The group, now accompanied only by Topsy (and a disembodied hand) headed back into the Underdark, hoping they were getting closer—and not farther away—from escape…

And that was session 3. I am a little torn on whether or not skipping past random encounters is a good idea. They provide a lot of flavor for the journeys through the Underdark, but do take up a lot of time. I’m anxious to keep the story going (as we’re not even halfway through the campaign) so I think the approach I used this time works, but I’ll continue to adapt in the future.

The hook horror hunt was a good set encounter. Just a straight up battle, but it had some foreshadowing of more serious developments later, especially after the group rolled history checks to identify “Yeenoghu…”

And Gracklestugh was a lot of fun. I’ve seen others complain about it, and it was rather complicated (this site even had a flowchart for the chapter). It was basically the characters being forced into adventures, and there was little they could do with the stone giants (although being merciful did help them out, even if they don’t know yet what the crystal can do…). That being said, there was a bit more to do than with Neverlight Grove.

My only complaint would be clearer evidence of demonic corruption in Gracklestugh. There are hints of madness spreading, but nothing as dramatic as seen in Neverlight Grove or Sloobludop. But it was still a lot of fun, and I think my group enjoyed it even without a dramatic boss battle (thanks to us skipping most of the Whorlstone Tunnels dungeon).

Next time the group will be heading to Blingdenstone, and hopefully freedom from the Underdark…

Out of the Abyss session 3: Entering Gracklestugh

Last time, the group travelled through the Darklake and escaped the horrors of Neverlight Grove with the remaining myconids, heading ultimately for Gracklestugh. Between the two sessions we had some personnel changes- Varys (half-drow ranger) was back, and Kerasa (dwarf fighter) and Brynn (gnome wizard) were away. We also had Barakus (tiefling monk), Navarre (half-elf rogue), and Zinaella (half-elf paladin). The only remaining NPCs were Buppido, the derro, Topsy, a deep gnome, and a kuo-toa the group rescued from the Darklake.

The group had been travelling with the myconids for a few days when Sovereign Basidia announced it was time for them to part ways, as the myconids had to find a new home. Kerasa had left shortly after fleeing Neverlight to continue on her mysterious mission. Brynn told the group the myconids were allowing her to travel with them, which she saw as a great opportunity to learn more about the Underdark. She said she would catch up with them in one of the major Underdark cities.

Barakus, Navarre, Zinaella and the NPCs set off, hoping to find more information on escaping the Underdark in Gracklestugh. After about half a day, the tunnel they were travelling through began to slope upwards, and they heard a commotion ahead. Sneaking forward, they saw a group of orcs on a rope bridge that crossed a ravine, arguing with a familiar half-drow- Varys.

The group came forward as the orc leader was challenging Varys to fight. He noticed the rest of the “weaklings,” as he called them, and accused Varys of an ambush. The orcs wanted the group to back off and let them cross first. The group agreed, so the leader came across, with the rest of the orcs following on the bridge and their shaman waiting on the other side.

As the discussion continued, Barakus leapt forward and smashed one of the posts holding the bridge up with a well-placed kick [a great acrobatics and attack check]. Several of the orcs tumbled into the ravine, and the orc shaman was trapped on the other side. Combat broke out.

The orc leader managed to score a few good hits on Zinaella and Navarre, but Varys’ archery backup helped them take him down. The shaman’s spells weren’t helping much, so she fled. The group then carefully made their way across the one rope holding the bridge up and continued into the Underdark after catching up with Varys.

They travelled for a few more days [I skipped over a lot of the random encounters to keep the story going] when they entered a narrow, winding tunnel. Suddenly, two hook horrors burst from a side passage, and ran past the group down another narrow tunnel. The group heard the distinctive cries of a pack of gnolls behind the hook horrors, and tried to get out of sight.

Several gnolls rushed past the group and ran after the hook horrors. They group followed carefully behind them. The passageway ended in a broader cavern where the gnolls had the hook horrors cornered. As the gnolls moved to attack, the group attacked them from behind. One of the gnolls wounded Barakus pretty badly, but the rest fell.

As the group tried to decide what to do about the two hook horrors, they heard more howling behind them, including one distinctive word, “Yeenoghu.” The group readied themselves for another attack. Two gnolls burst into the room and fell under the group’s bows and blades. The remaining gnolls were more wary, and managed to break their way in and provide cover for their leader. The leader severely wounded Varys, while Navarre took a few more hits. Eventually the group picked off the weaker gnolls, and killed their pack chief. Exhausted, they all jumped as a mist rose from the gnoll leader, and a haunting voice filled the cavern, “Yeenoghu will remember this…”

The hook horrors were wary but didn’t attack, as they could tell the group wasn’t chasing them. So the party carefully backed away from them, found their way through the twisting tunnels, and continued to Gracklestugh [this was the set encounter “Hook Horror Hunt”].

After several more days of travel, the ground they walked on began to change. The tunnels became more orderly, and paved stones started appearing on the ground. One night while they were preparing camp in an alcove to the side of a passage, the group heard something approaching. They hid, and soon a wagon driven by two deep gnomes, full of carts, passed by them. The group called out, and the wagon stopped. The deep gnomes were wary at first–and Topsy tried to remain hidden, so wasn’t much help–but realized the group wasn’t a threat.

Navarre hoped to sell some of the items they had, or trade for useful goods but the deep gnomes weren’t interested. They had a shipment of weapons that were needed for the defense of their home Blingdenstone. Barakus asked about the rumors they’d heard of a way to the surface, and the deep gnomes said some of their scouts had found accessible paths, but as they were traders they didn’t have much information. After sharing a pleasant meal, the gnomes moved on and the group went to sleep.

After about another day, they came to massive gates, and realized they were at Gracklestugh.

Buppido had claimed to be a person of some importance, so the group urged him to secure their entry [the group claimed he said this at some point, I couldn’t remember but played along]. He confessed to having lied, and said derro tend to not be very popular with the duergar gate guards. So Zinaella approached the gate to discuss.

They claimed to be fleeing the drow and wanted passage into the city; the group also mentioned returning one of its citizens. The duergar warily let the group in, but warned them not to cause any problems. They also told the party they would be unable to leave without official approval. Not given much choice, the party agreed.

As they passed through the gates, however, a side passage opened and a duergar walked out. This was Gorglak, a corrupt duergar guard. He claimed to know they were lying, and demanded something to keep quiet. The group offered gems they had found—including some gems taken from the eyes of a Lolth statue in Chapter 1—and he agreed [after a successful persuasion check] but passed on the Lolth gems…He told the group to take the gems to his contact, Werz, in the docks, and disappeared back into the wall.

They entered the city, and were immediately hit with a wall of heat and noxious fumes from all the furnaces running inside the city walls. Buppido guided them towards the docks, travelling through the city market. On the way they saw many odd occurrences—they watched a duergar become insanely angry with a deep gnome after he offered to sell something to the merchant, then inordinately polite as he attempted to sell something to the gnome. The group stopped to unload some of the merchandise they’d uncovered, but the merchant’s first counteroffer was to “chop off the tiefling’s head” and take all the gear. Because this was said in a friendly, rather than hostile, manner, the group was confused, and continued negotiating with the merchant till they had sold their wares.

The party began pressing Buppido to help in some way, as he’d been the one pushing them to come to Gracklestugh. He said he would need some time to find his contacts, and would return in about a day, then rushed off into the crowds. Meanwhile, their kuo-toa companion said he noticed a kuo-toa boat at the docks, and wanted to talk with them so he left as well.

The group continued on to the docks when they saw two masked duergar appear out of thin air, pull out glowing daggers, and begin to viciously stab a duergar walking along the docks. Topsy urged the group not to intervene, but Navarre was interested in the glowing daggers [it’s not the most noble of parties] so they tried to help. They easily fought off the attackers, and revived the victim. It turned out to be their contact, Wertz, who asked them to take him to the nearby tavern.

Inside, the duergar bought the group a round of ales and shots of some fiery liquor that several of the group struggled to keep down [bad constitution checks]. The group told him of their deal with Gorglak, and he took the gems, then offered them some money if they could take another bag of gems to Blingdenstone. The group agreed, and began asking Wertz for more information on the city. He suddenly became rabidly hostile, screaming at the group for their rudeness, and stormed out. As he did, two of the other patrons attacked each other. The group separated them, and neither of the duergar could remember what they were fighting about.

The bartender was appreciative of the group’s help, and gave them another round of shots. Varys became a bit ill, but managed to hold it together. The bartender was impressed with the group [good charisma checks] and tried to help. He mentioned the city had been getting more chaotic and tense recently, which was strange for the orderly duergar. He also told them he’d heard rumors of demon attacks on nearby settlements.

Stumbling out, the group thanked the bartender and headed towards the only inn that would serve outsiders. As they were walking there, their kuo-toa friend returned and said the boat would be leaving in a few days and they may be able to escape on it; he then left the group to return to the boat. The party secured rooms and food, partnered up and went to bed. Topsy tried to get a room to himself, but the group laughed at him, and made him room with Varys [I wasn’t sure if this was supposed to be a punishment- I pretended Varys was particularly flatulent].

In the middle of the night, Varys heard a noise coming from the closet, and saw that Topsy was gone. He opened the closet and saw a wererat that resembled Topsy. The wererat asked him not to tell anyone, and to just let him stay in the closet for the night. Varys told him to get out, and then went back to sleep [this big reveal of Topsy’s lycanthropy was not as shocking as I’d hoped].

Next week, the group becomes more embroiled in the growing turmoil of Gracklestugh…